Planning your next step in motorsports is always a challenge as you have to not only choose the right category of racing but also the one that can fit in your budget. I decided to do the Formula Pilota Asian Championship (Formula Abarth Asia) this year as I was impressed with the cars and the series is definitely a step up for me from the Formula Renault F4 Eurocup 1.6 which I did last year. While I did contemplate doing the FR 2.0 (support to FR 3.5) series in Europe due to budget reasons I decided to do the Formula Pilota Championship instead. As an alternative to FR 2.0 the Abarth car is quick and a really good stepping stone for the next Formulae category.
Formula Pilota uses the European-renowned Formula Abarth FA010 car, with a FIA F3 Homologated Monocoque, 1400cc Turbo engine producing 180bhp and a 6 speed Sadev sequential gearbox. The car is relatively easy to drive and the turbo engine required a little modifying of my driving style. One great thing about this series is how competitive the lead bunch is. Even though the grid is not the biggest there is almost nothing to choose from the top 7-8 drivers. The format is 3 races per weekend with grid positions for Races 1 & 3 being decided in a good old school qualifying session. The Race 2 grid is determined by the order of fastest laps set in Race 1. So that can either work for you or against you.
I have had quite a good start to the Championship with 2 podium finishes in the Overall category and 3 podiums in the Asian class category from 6 races. I still felt I could have added to that so am not completely satisfied with the start to the series. I do know what changes have to be made to further improve so will be even better prepared for the next couple of races. The tracks I have raced on so far have been quite the opposite to each other; Shanghai F1 track with long straights and overtaking opportunities and the Ordos track which is very tight and difficult to overtake, which makes qualifying that more important.
After the first 2 rounds at Shanghai and Ordos it is good to still be within striking distance of the leaders even though I have lost many points due to mechanical and set up problems, especially at Shanghai where the alternator problem cost me a certain podium in Race 3. In Ordos I missed most of the practice sessions so had trouble finding the right balance and setup for the car. I was not as consistent as my team-mates which cost me a podium finish. Hopefully these set up issues will be sorted out when I return for the next race. Compared to Renault F4, this is a totally different environment. There is a lot more track time here during the race weekend as we have had more free practice sessions in the 2 rounds than the whole F4 season last year! However, the competitiveness of the F4 field was much better with anybody in the top 15 in with a shot to finish in the top 5. The great thing about the F4 series was it did serve as a benchmark against some good European drivers who are setting the pace this year in FR 2.0 in Europe. Having matched them for pace last year it gives me the confidence that I will do the same when I return to Europe in the future.
As anyone in the motorsports industry will know it is not possible to go racing without loyal partners behind you. So I would like to thank Karvy, Flameback Lodges and of course my family for their solid support and sacrifice. With 4 rounds to go I am confident I can mount a challenge for both the Overall and Asian category title. The Overall Champion and the Asian Driver Class Champion will each receive a four day evaluation at the Ferrari Academy which will be a dream come true for any driver and more importantly the first for an Indian.